My new favourite album is Young Americans. My new favourite track is Somebody Up There Likes Me, which is where a falling-apart strung-out confused aimless Bowie attempts to be Sly and the Family Stone, and the cracks severely show. I am focusing on this because I received a call from my best friend in Australia who is intrigued by my writings about Bowie this week.
“I never figured you for a fan. You never mentioned him before,” he says. This is true. This is because…
“I thought your take on him would be more like Lester Bangs. Caustic but grudging in his respect.” This is true. This is because…
Bowie changed my friend’s life, literally. Age of 11-14, his experience was the opposite of what I described yesterday. Bowie was his everything. I came to music at 17, hating all the schoolboys (posh like Giles Coren or Tony Blair) I knew who liked Bowie. I did/do not like the idea of heroes. At all. In football, fandom can be quantified by the number of home games attended, the number of away games. You can prove your fandom by devotion. Subcultural theory, it is all contained therein, I am sure. I disown authenticity these days so the reasons I once did not appreciate Bowie (as much as I might have) have not applied for years now. I enjoy Queen in 2016. Even so I used to have a grudging respect for many of Bowie’s songs, even a couple of his albums. Kept it a secret though. Do not let the veneer crack. Sure. But now…
“I love that track with Luther Vandross singing on. The album, the Lester Bangs review.” This is true, but… So my friend reads me some, down the phone from Australia. It trashes. It scours and reveals truth under the grime.
Now, as any faithful reader of this magazine is probably aware, David Bowie has never been my hero. I always thought all that Ziggy Stardust homo-from-Adelbaran business was a crock of shit, especially coming from a guy who wouldn’t even get in a goddam airplane. I thought he wrote the absolute worst lyrics I had ever heard from a major pop figure with the exception of Bernie Taupin, lines like “Time takes a cigarette and puts it in your mouth” delivered with a face so straight it seemed like it would crack at a spontaneous word or gesture, seemed to me merely gauche. As for his music, he was as accomplished an eclectician (a.k.a. thief) as Elton John, which means that though occasionally deposited onstage after seemingly being dipped in vats of green slime and pursued by Venusian crab boys, he had Showbiz Pro written all over him. A facade as brittle as it was icy, which I guess means that it was bound to crack or thaw, and whatever real artistic potency lay beneath would have to stand or evaporate.
Crack Bowie did, in the last year or so, and the result was Young Americans. It was not an album beloved of trad Bowiephiles, but for somebody like your reviewer, who never put any chips on the old chickenhead anyway, it was a perfectly acceptable piece of highly listenable product. More than that, in fact – it was a highly personal musical statement disguised as a shameless fling at the disco market, the drag perhaps utilized as an emotional red herring. Young Americans wasn’t Bowie dilettanting around with soul music, it was the bridge between melancholy and outright depression, an honest statement from a deeply troubled, mentally shattered individual who even managed, for the most part, to skirt self-pity. Like many of his peers, Bowie has cracked – and for him it was good, because it made him cut the bullshit. Young Americans was his first human album since Hunky Dory, and in my opinion the best record he ever put out. Until now…
Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung: “David Bowie: Station to Station” by Lester Bangs
There is a reason for Bangs’ reaction to Bowie. His writing can be summed up in one word. Authenticity.
The core of Everett True’s ‘writing’ can be summed up with the same word. I was enthusiastic too.
Authenticity no longer exists for me, and so I am freed of the encumbrance of Everett True. Freed to admit to a love for Bowie. Freed to admit to loving songs by bands whose names I would rather swallow. Of course, this also means I have no value but this matters little next to my ability to sing tearfully loud through Foreigner’s Cold As Ice, Bowie’s Fame.
Bowie was better than pretty much all them, though. I know it is not a competition but… a fan? Why not?
My friend reveals this for me because I told him I love Station to Station (one of my chosen Bowie albums) and it sparked a connection.
Circular. It is all circular.
- My favourite Nirvana song (these days) is a David Bowie cover.
- The Patrik Fitzgerald song I like to quote most on stage goes something like this. “Who needs to sleep, I play pinball till three in the night/Ain’t got a job/Ain’t got a home/But I like my life style/I listen to Bowie/I ride with him out to the stars/I live out my heroes/Try to touch them/I live out my stars.” I have sung it for years now for the Bowie connection, for the hopeless dreaming.
- This collective mourning has brought me no solace, only further isolation. I do not read anyone on Bowie since his death because I never read anyone. I listen to his songs over and over. Many connect, many do not. I do not listen to anything post-Nile Rodgers and even have difficulty with the Berlin triumvirate. In other words, I only listen to stuff I was not even there for. I speak to no one about Bowie, except for today. Twice.
- I do not feel grief, only shock. Shock, anger, isolation. Shock, anger, isolation, bereavement, disbelief, nothing. I have accepted he is dead. I know I am, mostly.
- I started compiling a list of artists influenced by David Bowie – thinking of compiling a tribute similar to the one I did for Lou Reed a while back – but gave up when I realised the first 30 names I had on the list were world-famous stars, and the list would run into the hundreds if not thousands. He was a template for pop music. He was a template for rock music. He was a template for… so much besides. No, I am not a fan. How can I be a fan of someone like that?
- Authenticity vs Bowie. What a pointless concept.
- I did not realise any of this until I started thinking about any of this. I did not start thinking about any of this until everyone else did. I say everyone but obviously real fans were thinking about this constantly. I have played Bowie over the years, I like to ride with him out to the stars. At one point, both me and Patrik, we pretended to approximate our stars. He failed. I failed. I cannot love success or fame, not for its own sake. It just is not in me.
- I have not forgiven him yet for not rising from the dead. I know how insensitive this sounds. I am trying to be honest here.
- [blank] My new favourite album is Young Americans [blank]
- Sometimes the ache to hear his music can be palpable. I do not know what has created this ache, this continuing desire to write through my feelings about Bowie and Bowie’s death and everything attached in-between. My friend Chris wrote something about this which I would like to reproduce here.
I know we like to think or say, this or that will live on, to make ourselves feel more comfortable, but for me, the feeling is that all these songs which until now were living somehow are shifting into a different realm, as with Motörhead’s, whose shift is nearly complete, Lemmy having been laid to rest. It is a realm of memory for those whose lives were altered by it and one of history mingled with fantasy for newcomers, but for all never to be felt in that special way again and never to be performed or witnessed again. It’s odd, as if the songs are becoming ghosts.
Time passes; we hear, say Hendrix’s music, a thing of history with fewer people around who experienced the actual living magic. The thing became swamped in a sea of hyperbole years and years ago, words like ‘genius,’ (true as they may be) over-riding the true power within and unwittingly undermining the vibe, ironically in a bid to keep the flame alight.
Some thoughts on dying
The songs are becoming ghosts. They shift meaning, they move into new realms. Bowie as a memory star…oh god. Please excuse me.